The Magic Avgeek Detector

 

AA92CBF6-7CB4-42C1-89C5-74C715FF0A71One thing I learned early on at my job is that you don’t have to be an aviation enthusiast to work at an airport. In fact, most of the people I work with, while very talented and quite passionate about what they do, aren’t at all interested in airplanes. And that’s OK. But I know there have to be avgeeks hiding out somewhere – the challenge has been finding them.

Even people who on the surface might seem to be interested in aviation, actually aren’t. The first time I saw a P-51 while at work I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I was practically jumping up and down as I watched it taxi out. In fact, I was so excited that I couln’t help exclaiming to a woman who was standing nearby, “ Look! It’s a Mustang!”  As she backed away from me with a confused expression I realized she wasn’t there for the airplanes. She clearly thought I was nuts.

3257F394-B710-4B15-B95C-2C62F9AD184EOver time I pretty much gave up on the idea of tracking down other airport avgeeks. But all that changed last summer in an unexpected way. Did I stumble across a magic device for detecting aviation lovers? Well… kind-of. And what, you ask, is the secret to unveiling hidden avgeeks? An A220 lanyard! Who’d have guessed!

You may recall that last summer at Oshkosh Airventure I got the opportunity to tour the A220, formerly known as the C-Series. The plane is the latest from Bombardier and was caught up in a bit of drama involving a legal challenge from Boeing and a partnership with Airbus (hence the name change). This, in turn, focused quite a bit of extra attention on the plane. As part of the tour I was given a lanyard, which I immediately started wearing at work. Soon thereafter the conversations started:

CEAAAEA9-52A5-4384-A257-3D01562B5E5CHave you seen the A220?

Why yes, I have. Up close and personal. And it is quite lovely. The cockpit is gorgeous – modern and clean. I could have spent hours asking, “Ooooh! What does THIS button do?” I think EAA may have warned Airbus about me because they quickly moved me along into the cabin, where I proceeded to sit in as many seats as possible.

Is the A220 going to be flying to this airport?

Sadly, no. At least not right now. This is not from lack of trying on my part. I wish airlines would start consulting me about these things!

32AB20D5-E4DD-4271-8952-20B4FD56CCF1Do You Work For Delta?

This question took me by surprise until I remembered that Delta ordered several of them and, in fact, is the first US carrier to put them into service. Of course I had to explain that I do not work for Delta, but I’ve been pestering as many of my friends at Delta as possible about sending the plane our way.

Cool lanyard! Where did you get it?

This question came from a Delta gate agent. I told him I got it at Oshkosh and unfortunately I didn’t get any extras. But I’d be happy to give him mine if he can convince his employer to start flying them to our little corner of the midwest!

8B53649A-3769-4521-A3D7-FC673C567528A220, eh? My airline ordered a bunch of them but won’t be flying them.

This statement came from a pilot at Republic Airlines, which puzzled me a bit. After some digging I discovered that Republic did, in fact, place an order with Bombardier. However the order was later removed.

Through the lanyard I’ve not only uncovered some avgeeks hidden amongst my coworkers, but I’ve gotten to chat with pilots, ground crew, gate agents and others who I might not have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I love it! Sadly, now that the A220 has entered service it will not remain a conversation piece much longer. The hunt will be on for a new lanyard to wear. B797 anyone?

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The Tower, The TRACON, and Me, Oh My!

36062608_UnknownI’ve got a thing for ATC towers. Who doesn’t, right? They’ve got the best view in the world! I’ve been staring longingly up at the tower at my airport since I started working there, wishing that I could get inside. I think they are aware of this because they keep adding more and more “no trespassing” signs along the fence.

Taking the hint, I’ve turned my attention elsewhere. There are three other towers under the jurisdiction of the airport authority, and I’ve visited all three. I’ve also managed a visit to the ramp tower at CLT. And earlier this year I reached the pinnacle of my tower-visiting career by spending time in the tower at Oshkosh during Airventure. It was amazing!

36062672_UnknownBut… there’s still that tower at work. The one I park next to every day. The one whose controllers I listen to all the time. I’ve heard them handle emergencies and bad weather and single runway ops. Heck, I’ve even spoken to them when I helped on the deice pad. I feel like I know these people! I’m their biggest fan! And yet, this tower has remained out of reach…

UNTIL NOW!

Oh yes, you read that correctly! I FINALLY got inside the tower and let me tell you – it was AWESOME! Ready for pics? OK, here you go!

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Yeah, that’s it. Sorry. We weren’t allowed to take photos. We weren’t even allowed to have our phones on. So the pics in this post are from other towers. You’ll still get an idea of what it was like though.

Enlight38 (1)First stop was the cab. Wow. Just… wow! No other way to describe it! The view was spectacular. The planes look so small from up there! Getting to see the airport from that vantage point was both incredible and informative. For example, I learned that the tower does not have a good view of the deice pad because it is hidden by the terminal building. I didn’t realize that before.

The flight activity was fairly light during our visit, however the airport was on single-runway ops at the time, which is always fun to watch. We got an overview of the different tower positions, then we got to chat with the clearance controller for a bit who told us about the position and what it does. He showed us the flight strips and explained how to read them. I noticed that the “Bird Stike” box on his computer screen was lit up red. He said there had been a bird strike earlier that morning. (It is migration season so there is increased bird activity right now.)

FullSizeRender (87)All too soon our cab visit ended and as you might expect, I REALLY didn’t want to leave. I was prepared with a whole list of reasons why they should let me stay:

  • I’ll wash the windows
  • I’ll fetch coffee and snacks
  • I won’t get in the way
  • I promise not to unplug anything

However, before I could start begging and pleading, the ATC folks quite wisely tempted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse: a visit to the radar room. Sweet! I’ve always wanted to visit a TRACON!

IMG_2256The first thing I noticed when I entered the room was that it is dark. Really dark. It took a minute for my eyes to adjust. When they did, I saw lots of computer stations. The controllers who work here not only handle approach and departure for my airport, but they handle all the traffic below 10,000 feet for most of the state. (There apparently used to be two TRACONS that got combined into one, which is why they cover so much territory.)

We got to spend time with two controllers who were handling the airspace right around the airport. Their manager explained what they were doing and helped us to understand the information on the radar screens. One of the controllers got a call from the tower at the cargo airport with a heads up that two military tankers were about to take off. Sure enough they popped up onto the screen a few moments later. I was a bit alarmed to see that their targets were both flashing red. The controller explained that flashing red means the airplanes are too close together. If they had been civilian flights then he would have had to act quickly to separate them. However, military flights handle their own separation, so in this case it was OK.

IMG_8431There was definitely a different vibe in the TRACON vs. the cab.  In the TRACON the focus is entirely on the computer screens. The controllers have a lot of airspace to manage and the atmosphere felt a little more intense.  In the cab the focus is on the world outside the windows. The most important thing, however, is how it all fits together to keep things running smoothly and safely.

I would have happily stayed all day, but after a few more minutes it was time for us to go. Wow! What an epic visit! I still gaze longingly up at the tower, but now it’s with a better understanding of what’s going on in there. Oh – and the window washing and snacks thing? I’m still available. Any time. Seriously.

 

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